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Wearable tech: from counting steps to saving lives and beyond

With whole-body wellness and preventive healthcare taking center stage during the pandemic, wearable technology has witnessed renewed interest. Demand has also been driven by the need for more convenient and accessible healthcare experiences. As a result, smartwatches and fitness trackers have become more mainstream, but they no longer just count steps and calories. Wearable devices are now being used for more advanced applications ranging from diagnosing chronic diseases to delivering treatments, while some startups even develop wearable implants.
The space has also been enjoying a hot streak in the recent past, as a little over 20 startups, which develop wearable tech to deliver treatments, managed to raise a combined USD 2.4 billion in the last few years. This includes large disruptors such as Axonics Modulation Technologies, Enable Injections (USD 215 million last month), and Twin Health (USD 140 million last October) accounting for almost half of the funds raised.
Meanwhile, industry players are continuously addressing issues that could hinder the growth of the market, including short battery life and inaccurate data capturing. Despite being fairly regulated, the collection of personal information also remains a serious concern due to cyber threats. These concerns have been compounded by high-profile data breaches including one that exposed over 61 million Apple and Fitbit users belonging to GetHealth, last September.
Though our Telehealth, Preventive Healthcare, and Silver Economy Tech hubs have touched on some of the startups in the space, this introductory article on wearable technology takes a closer look at its concept, components, use cases, the current startup landscape, and business models.

What is wearable tech?

Wearable tech refers to electronic devices that can be worn as accessories to track, analyze, and transmit personal data. Often paired with software, a wearable can take many forms—headbands, wristwatches, waistbands, skin patches, and even clothing. Wearable devices date back to the 1970s when calculator wristwatches by Pulsar and Sony Walkmans were introduced. The early 2000s saw a breakthrough in the market with the introduction of the SPOT smartwatch by Microsoft (even though it was discontinued back in 2008) and a wearable underwater camera by GoPro.
Wearables are equipped with motion sensors and microprocessors that can capture vast amounts of data and sync that information with mobile or other electronic devices for analysis and insights.
These can be broadly grouped as 1) non-implantable, 2) external, and 3) implantable. Most wearables currently in the market fall under the non-implantable category. These devices and external devices mainly use rechargeable batteries, while implantables mostly use non-rechargeable ones.

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